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Tech Tidbits: R2 and SQL Server 2005/Visual Studio 2005

The tech world has been busy lately, so this week, I want to present two different topics, rather than let either one sit on the back burner for another week. Let's get started.

Windows Server 2003 R2 Hits Final Milestone, Ushers in VM Era Last week, Windows Server 2003 R2 ("release 2") entered its final phase of development with the release of its second, and final, release candidate (RC) build, RC1 (the first was called RC0). I've discussed R2 a lot in Windows IT Pro Update already, and Microsoft hasn't added any new features in this final public release (see the URL below for download details). What has changed, however, is that R2 will usher in a new era of virtual machine (VM) licensing from Microsoft. Customers who purchase R2 Enterprise Edition will be able to install that copy of R2 into as many as five VMs--in Microsoft's Virtual Server or VMware's server products--on the same machine. This clarification of VM licensing will save customers money, and, I believe, take VM technology mainstream.

Why is that, you ask? Today, most corporations use VM technology for testing purposes. Developers can test new applications, Web services, and Web applications against known configurations to see how they behave. Administrators can test network and server configuration changes in tightly controlled test environments. And Help desks can maintain a library of VMs to use as a reference when calls come in. Microsoft and VMware, however, see a big future for VM technology. And with R2 Enterprise Edition, I think we're going to see more and more VMs rolled out in production environments. Increasingly, VMs are the perfect environment for legacy OS installations and applications and for systems that are needed only at certain times, such as during peak holiday sales traffic.

In the past, maintaining new OS installations in VMs was expensive because you had to pay for a normal license for each installation, regardless of whether you used it regularly or not. R2 will change that, at least for Enterprise Edition. And when Longhorn Server ships in 2007, the Datacenter Edition of that product will also support unlimited VM installations. That, I believe, will make Longhorn Server Datacenter the ultimate hosting environment for production VMs. There's more--Microsoft is now supporting the use of Microsoft Exchange Server in a VM, for example--but that's a story for another day. In the meantime, if you're looking for an inexpensive way to virtualize your operations, give R2 a look.

Windows Server 2003 R2 Release Candidate 1 (RC1) Software

SQL Server 2005 and Visual Studio 2005 Completed Microsoft long ago scheduled a big launch event for SQL Server 2005 and Visual Studio 2005 (and BizTalk 2006) on November 7 in San Francisco. But late last week, the company finalized both SQL Server 2005 and Visual Studio 2005 and released the products to Microsoft Developer Network (MSDN) Subscriber Downloads. If you have an MSDN membership and want early access to the final code, your time has come.

Both products have been delayed umpteen times and are years late, but developers looking for better performance and productivity would be wise to investigate both products. Visual Studio 2005 is the best version of the development suite yet, although its confusing array of product editions will be sure to frighten more people than a vintage Stephen King book. The basic gist is this: Microsoft has significantly expanded the Visual Studio product line at both the low end and the high end. The company's Express Editions ($49 each) are low-cost versions of the individual Visual Studio products (Visual Basic, Visual C#, and so on), whereas the Team Studio editions are aimed at teams of corporate developers who need to collaborate regularly on enterprise-class solutions. In the middle of all this are the more typical standard and professional editions.

SQL Server 2005 is impressive in its scope. Microsoft has completely rethought the entire three-tier architecture that developers have followed for the past decade and made it possible to run Windows .NET code from directly within SQL Server. This functionality has a few major ramifications, all positive. First, developers can write stored procedures in native .NET languages such as C# or Visual Basic (VB), giving them access to those language's advanced features. (Naturally, T-SQL is still supported as well, and is more appropriate for certain uses.) Second, because SQL Server 2005 natively hosts .NET code, remote data access is less performance-challenged than before.

SQL Server 2005, of course, offers much more than that, including high availability capabilities and data mirroring (in beta form now). But that, too, is a discussion for another day. In the meantime, head over to MSDN if you have a subscription, and take a look at these products. You might be surprised by how much has changed.

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